Alexandre Dumas rewrote the Counter-Reformation in France; Schiller created folk heroes from scratch (a revisionism abetted and amplified by the Italian librettists employed by Donizetti, Bellini or Verdi).
On screen, too, for every painstakingly accurate – yes, superbly entertaining – I, Claudius, there are a dozen Troys, Gladiators and Romes. And yet even if they scramble the viewer's knowledge, these works still send people in droves to classical history courses, and fire up lasting enthusiasms. Old Carlyle can't have recruited a tenth of the amount.
© Copyright Telegraph Media Group & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet 2009